Capitalism in Germany

Now, right off the bat, I want to make it clear that this post will be for the most part void of any subjective statements about Capitalism, but more an observation of how it manifests itself here in Germany.  But here’s the thing…  MORE STORES NEED TO BE OPEN ON SUNDAY IN THIS COUNTRY.  It was ridiculous, I went to Anger hoping to peruse some stores and maybe make some purchases for things that I needed in my apartment, and next to nothing was open!  I mean Jesus, most of Germany identifies as Atheist, so why is it they adhere so strictly to Blue laws and traditions?  Maybe I’m just from suburban New Jersey, where the earliest most things close on Sunday is 9 PM, but still.

And it’s not even that stores aren’t open on Sunday, it’s that they close SO EARLY EVERY OTHER DAY OF THE WEEK.  I went to Anger literally yesterday to get some groceries and by the time I got there it was 8:02 and they were closing the grocery stores in the basement of the mall.  Most stores are open on SUNDAY in the US longer than stores in Germany on weekdays.  It’s just so strange to me not having such an available access to what I want, when I want it.

But additionally, the only things that ARE open late tend to be American companies.  Burger King is a pretty consistent theme here, but for instance, whenever I walk around late at night through Anger, Burger King is the place that is ALWAYS open.  An American company is the one that defies all traditions, be it closing at 8, or closing on Sundays.  I just looked it up right now, and the Burger King in Anger is open from 10AM-2AM on Sundays.  That’s an infinitely many percent increase in time availability on Sundays compared to just about every single other store in the immediate area, since they literally do not open at all on Sundays.

Another thing I have found particularly noteworthy here just by looking around is the rather aggressively disdainful atmosphere that this city/University has towards Capitalism itself, which is so strange considering I grew up being taught in school to arbitrarily hate anything inspired by Karl Marx.  For instance, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen signs that essentially amount to saying, “DOWN WITH CAPITALISM,” since I’ve been here.  I think one of my favorites so far has been the fact that there is a quote on a short stone wall right in front of die Mensa and Cafe “?” that says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Capitalism is like a beauty that kills itself from gluttony” with a picture of Marilyn Monroe between  the, “kills,” and the, “itself.”  I don’t know if that’s just a small percentage of rather radical students, remnants from the time when the DDR was still a country, or just a regular part of life here.

What is strangest to me is the fact that this attitude is so pervasive.  In the States, yes, you have left leaning Democrats, and even outright Communists and Socialists.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it would never get to the point where people go around the city making graffiti, talking about how we need to finish what Marx started, and overthrow the Capitalist Fat Cats.  In fact, if you did that in the States, you would probably never be able to have a career as a politician, since everyone in the US is so terrified of any sort of political or economic system that isn’t full blown, free market, Capitalism.  The humor, of course, is that we don’t even have free markets.  That’s the first thing I learned in Macroeconomics: even America, the bastion of free markets, freedoms, and free people, does not have even remotely close to truly free markets.

I will say this though: for all of the differences between American business practices and German business practices, almost ALL of the workers I met here have been not only happier, but nicer than most people that I see at work in the States, save that angry little man with the phone…  It’s as though people are somehow…  Happy to be working.  I swear to God, even the few times I’ve had to get fast food when I’m here, you’ll find young adults, up to older people, smiling behind the counter, saying, “Wie kann ich Ihnen helfen?” as though they don’t mind that they’re literally flipping burgers for a living at minimum wage (admittedly, it’s probably a LOT better than minimum wage in the States), doing the same thing, day in and day out.  It’s actually astounding.  And I don’t know what to attribute that to.  Maybe it is the shorter work days.  Maybe it is the higher wages allotted to them by law.  All I know is that if I ever need a job before I get a full fledged career, I want it to be in Germany.

I work in the food service industry back home.  I work at the restaurant chain called, “Ruby Tuesday” and I do pretty much everything except cook and serve there.  I host.  I bus tables.  I run food.  I expo, which I would explain, but it’s not at all relevant.  I can tell you some stories about flat out RUDE people that seem to think that just because they’re going out to a restaurant, they’re entitled to treat everyone at the restaurant as their own personal slaves.  People are jerks.  And everyone I work with hates working at Ruby Tuesday, because the food service industry is awful.  And when I host, 99% of the time, my job doesn’t involve showing people to their tables, or helping out the servers, or anything like that.  It’s just listening to the rest of the restaurant staff complain about how much they HATE their job, and how they want to quit, but for monetary reasons, or (for the students) their parents are making them work, they can’t.  And it shows in the way they approach tables, and how they talk to their customers, and how willing they are to react to every whim that their customers may have.  But I just get the impression that that cannot happen here, and I know how naive that sounds, but for the love of God, if a 20 year old girl can give me a burger with a smile, and with a laugh, even try to help me pronounce the words to my order better since she can tell I’m  American (the German word for “pickles” is something I will never be able to remember, nor pronounce correctly), then there’s just something fundamentally different.  I don’t know the cause, but it’s just mind blowing.

This is what I’ve learned: if I ever have a mid life crisis and want to kill myself from the monotony of my job, all I need to do is move to Germany, and apply for a job at Burger King.

2 thoughts on “Capitalism in Germany

  1. Ann Witkowski

    Hi Jordan,
    Your blogs are some of the more interesting ones I have read by our study abroad students. I especially loved your political commentary. Now you see how silly it is when Obama is called a socilaist and Obama Care is referred to socialism. It doesn’t even come close, does it 🙂 Your observation about the workers being happier is insightful. When you return, I’ll share with you an annoying commercial that Cadillac aired during this year’s Superbowl that illustrates some of these points you are making!

  2. Marcel Rotter

    Interesting observations. Do you think that the strict labor laws that rule the closing of shops on Sundays could also be responsible for he friendly clerks? I mean if you know that you don’t have to work on Sundays and you get a decent salary and benefits (no weaseling out of health insurance by employers there) wouldn’t that raise one’s spirit. Also, what I observed in Vienna: you can, actually, have a life-long carrier in the food industry. Waiters are working in cafes and restaurants for the better part of their lives, are appreciated, and can raise a family on that salary. In turn, they are knowledgeable, professional, less frustrated, and just make the whole place run very smoothly, which in turn benefits the costumer.

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